The newest information presented by iSports API

Why Arsenal want Gakpo and what his arrival could mean for Martinelli

Posted on March 31, 2022

"I have played on the wings growing up, but I can play in the middle as well, or on the sides. I can do whatever the manager wants me to do," Gabriel Martinelli told the Athletic last month. A serious knee injury in 2020 forced the Brazilian to miss a substantial chunk of the 2020/21 season, but Martinelli is back and firing on all cylinders.

He may have just five league goals to his name, yet for a team where the top scorers - Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka - have managed nine goals apiece, it doesn't make for such grim reading. Of the top seven teams in the division, though, Arsenal (44) have scored the fewest. They may be in the driving seat to join Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea in the Champions League next season, however the lack of out-and-out goalscorer could prove an issue if - or when - Arsenal do finish in the European spots.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left at the turn of the year, while Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette are out of contract in the summer. It means the Gunners will look to add a new frontman at the end of the season, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Alexander Isak and Darwin Nunez all linked with a big money move to the Emirates when the transfer window opens.

Could it be, though, that Mikel Arteta will adopt a different approach to the market in the summer? It was reported by Football.London earlier this month that Martinelli had been operating centrally in training perhaps with a view to playing through the middle in the long-term.

That would go some way to explaining links with a move for PSV's Cody Gakpo. The young Dutchman has been a revelation for the Eredivisie title contenders this season, with a WhoScored rating of 7.84 the third best in the Dutch top-flight. Only Ajax's Dusan Tadic (15) has registered more assists than Gakpo (13) in the 2021/22 Eredivisie campaign, while the 22-year-old ranks second for clear-cut chances created (10) and fifth for key passes (59).

He has been shining in a 4-2-3-1 setup, not too dissimilar to Arteta's favoured system where the wingers cut inside to go for goal and open up space for the full-backs to overlap. In theory, then, Gakpo should slot in seamlessly at the Emirates. Six of his eight league goals this season have been with his right foot, while 51 of 60 shots (85%) have come with this body part.

Arsenal may look to attack down the right (39%) more than the left (35%), but a goal threat of Gakpo's calibre would likely see the latter return rise. It helps that the wing wizard is able to ghost past opponents where required with 59 successful dribbles the fourth best in the Eredivisie this season. A 58.4% dribble success rate means there is room for improvement, but the determination to get the better of a defender is a trait that sits well with fans.

What is important, though, is that while Gakpo utilises his dribbling ability to good effect when needed, he is a team player, too. For a player in his position, a 77.3% pass success rate from 30.3 passes per 90 in the Eredivisie this season is solid and means the youngster can find a teammate to good effect. This additional quality to his game means only Ajax (85.1%) have a better pass success rate than PSV (82.5%) in the Eredivisie this season, and some evidence that Gakpo doesn't simply dribble down a blind alley to attempt to force the issue himself.

A critique of his, however, is a lack of defensive work. While his work on the ball has propelled him into the spotlight, Arteta looks to his attacking players behind the striker to contribute to the defensive side of things. Martin Odegaard (1.8), Martinelli (1.6) and Bukayo Saka (1.2) all average in excess of one tackle per 90, a side to Gakpo's game (0.8) that he falls short on.

At such a young age, however, this is a weakness that could turn to a strength in time with the right coaching and application. Arteta has turned his current attackers into hard working individuals and what's to say he couldn't do similar with Gakpo. While Martinelli has the left wing spot sewn up for now, the arrival of Gakpo would allow the Brazil international to operate through the middle where his finishing capability can be maximised.

No less, Arsenal can expect to sign a striker in the summer, even with the rumoured interest in Gakpo, but this would significantly bolster Arteta's attacking options and flexibility in the final third. With European football set to be back on the cards for the Gunners, minutes wouldn't be in short supply either, and Arteta needs options considering the expected increase in game time.

He won't come cheap, and Arsenal do have previous with spending big on wingers who have impressed on the continent yet struggled to adapt to the English game. However, the Gunners have one of the most vibrant forward lines in England and adding Gakpo to that setup would boost that attack and allow for Martinelli to potentially focus his development on playing through the middle. What's not to like?